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Little to celebrate as country turns forty

The country celebrated forty years of independence on December 12, but looking at the political and economic developments over the years, there was nothing much to write home about.
Zachary Ochieng

Observers of Kenyan politics concur that the country has never had real democracy since independence in 1963 till last year when the National Rainbow Coalition (NARC) took power.

Admittedly, those entrusted with leadership for the past four decades have tended to pursue selfish interests. After a long struggle, which began soon after the establishment of a British protectorate in 1895, Kenya finally got her independence in 1963, with a multi-party political system and a two-chamber Legislature the House of Representatives and the Senate.

The main parties were the then ruling Kenya African National Union [KANU] allied to the late founding president Jomo Kenyatta, and the opposition Kenya African Democratic Union [KADU] that sought to champion the rights of the minority ethnic groups, with the support of departing colonialists.

But in 1964, KADU dissolved with a view to fostering national unity, in which its members joined KANU. The two-chamber legislature merged into a single National Assembly in 1966.

However, following differences between Kenyatta and his Vice-President Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, the latter formed an opposition party Kenya People s Union [KPU], which Kenyatta subsequently banned in 1969.

Hence, from 1969 to 1982, Kenya remained a defacto one party state. However, following the attempted coup on Moi s government by disgruntled Kenya Air Force soldiers in 1982, a law was hurriedly enacted, making KANU the only legal political party.

But following the collapse of the former communist bloc and pressure from donors, Moi allowed the reintroduction of pluralism in 1991. To date, Kenya is a multi-party state with about forty registered political parties.

When Kenya attained independence in 1963 and became a republic a year later, a select group of elite political leaders from Kenyatta s home district of Kiambu emerged to stake out and claim a rare closeness to the president. Four years later, this cabal of politicians had already acquired the dubious distinction of being referred to as the Kiambu Mafia .

Thus, from 1967, a Kikuyu [Kenyatta s tribe] cabal centred around Kiambu district remained at the centre of power. Sadly though, this group undermined Kenyatta s nationalist and populist background, alienating other ethnic groups as well as many non-conforming Kikuyus.

The post-colonial government first addressed itself to grievances aired during the struggle for independence. Through Sessional Paper No. 10 of 1965 on African Socialism and its application to planning in Kenya , the government laid down development policies aimed at correcting regional imbalances and removing poverty, ignorance and disease.

But forty years later, poverty eradication, the legacy and impact of the colonial government in Kenya, including the impact of tribal politics still remains a challenge. Currently 56 per cent of Kenyans live below the poverty line.

Upon independence, Kenya was economically on par with Malaysia, Egypt, Israel, Hong Kong and Portugal. World Bank reports say that if Kenya had sustained its economic performance of the 1960s, it would today be in the same league with Jordan, Argentina and Portugal.

But it was the 1975 World Bank Country Report that really showed Kenya was on track. The report titled Kenya into the second decade noted: Kenya is now in the second year of its second decade as an independent nation. Behind it lies a record of sustained growth in production and income that has rarely been surpassed by countries in Kenya s stage of development. But today, with the economy growing at a measly 1 per cent, that report would seem too good to be true.

Kenya s economic growth began to experience a downturn soon after president Moi came to power in 1978. At that time, the economy was growing at the rate of 5 per cent per annum. But in 1981, the World Development Report showed that economic growth had slumped to 2.7 per cent.

However, analysts say that it was the year 1982, after the attempted coup that marked a turning point in Kenya s economic growth. It is widely believed that is the time politically correct individuals started siphoning out money.

Thus, the real transition from Kenyatta to Moi began in 1982. Individuals deemed to be anti-government were removed from key positions, including the treasury. While investment stagnated, the government began to employ sycophants as a favour. Between 1982 and 1987, the number of government employees increased by about 6 per cent per year.

It is also worth noting that foreign investment in manufacturing took a nose-dive in the late 1980s because of demands for kickbacks by some ministers. A number of local businesses were also forced into bankruptcy

But the single financial event that has had far-reaching impact on the Kenyan economy is the Goldenberg Scandal of 1990 to 1993. In its basic form, Goldenberg, now subject of a judicial commission of inquiry, involved export compensation for fake diamond and gold transactions. While the amounts that were involved are yet to be determined, Kenyans are still counting the cost.

In one facet alone, some KES13.5 billion ($1.8 billion) was shelled out to Goldenberg International a firm jointly owned by an Asian tycoon Kamlesh Pattni and former Director of Security Intelligence James Kanyotu - from the Central Bank of Kenya, purportedly to purchase the accruing foreign exchange.

Preliminary findings from the commission point to the fact that the monies shelled out bankrolled an extremely liquid campaign by former ruling party KANU in 1992. It is, however, expected to bring major embarrassment to players some of whom are in the ruling National Rainbow coalition [NARC].

The situation was exacerbated in the early 1990s, when Kenya s relationship with the key multilateral institutions took a nose dive, after more than two decades of cordial and beneficial relations, which began soon after independence in 1963.

After the aborted military coup of August 1982, Kenyans felt oppressed worse than they were in the colonial period. Moi s torture squad rounded up suspected coup plotters, tortured them at the infamous Nyayo House torture chambers and subsequently detained them without trial.

Their targets included politicians, radical university lecturers and student leaders and lawyers who dared represent the perceived dissidents. It was also during this period that the government curtailed press freedom by proscribing any publications deemed to be supportive of opposition figures.

To buttress the squad s actions, the political establishment and the security apparatus invented a nondescript underground movement going by the name Mwakenya (Mzalendo wa Kenya) Kiswahili for a Kenyan patriot. All the victims rounded up allegedly belonged to this underground movement whose existence remains a mystery to date.

The quest for political pluralism in the early 1990s which marked the second liberation in Kenya also saw the detention of politicians, lawyers and human rights activists. Although Moi finally yielded to pressure and reintroduced multi-partism, those supporting the opposition paid dearly.

In the run up to the 1992 and 1997 multi-party elections, politically instigated ethnic clashes targeting opposition sympathizers rocked the country, leaving more than 800 people dead and 130,000 homeless.

The country s forty years of independence have also witnessed political assassinations never witnessed even during the colonial period. The real plotters of the assassinations have never been arrested to date. Assassinations were perpetrated during both the Kenyatta and Moi eras. In 1968, Pio Gama Pinto, a Kenyan freedom fighter of Goan descent was killed in cold blood outside his house.

The country was in mourning again in 1969, when charismatic KANU secretary general Tom Mboya was gunned down in a Nairobi street. In 1975, populist politician Josiah Mwangi Kariuki was murdered and his body dumped in Ngong forest. Then come 1990, the then foreign affairs minister Robert Ouko was lured from his home and later murdered.

While the country has witnessed expansion of academic institutions and increase in enrolment over the past four decades, there has been little improvement on the facilities or proportional distribution of learning materials. This has in turn led to falling standards of education.

In the forty years, the country has had three presidents and 12 vice presidents. The first president Kenyatta died in office in 1978 and was succeeded by Moi. Moi ruled for 24 years and handed over power to Kibaki last December following KANU s defeat.

This year s fete was celebrated amid protests from a section of leaders both from the ruling coalition and the opposition, over the government s decision to spend KES 100 million [US$1.4million] on the 12-day festivities, which began from December 1 to December 12. The debate was sparked off by NARC nominated MP Ms Cecily Mbarire, who said it was illogical for the government to spend such colossal amounts when it was busy begging from donors .

To commemorate the forty years of independence, president Kibaki launched three new coins of KES 40, KES 1000 and KES 5000 denominations. The KES 40 coin will be in circulation while the others are commemorative coins to be bought from the Central Bank by interested collectors. Kibaki has come under severe criticism over the KES 40 coin, which bears his portrait, contrary to his election pledge that he would never use his portrait on currency or public buildings.

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